South Dakota monuments South Dakota monuments

9 Magnificent South Dakota Monuments—You Must Explore

On the coming memorial day, visit South Dakota monuments, from Mount Rushmore to Sioux falls, and explore a state scattered with world war veteran memorials, monuments, museums, and national parks, that honor citizens who served in the military or preserve the unique cultural difference.

South Dakota, a mid-western US state, has 16 national historic landmarks. The upper Missouri River splits the state into eastern and western regions. Sioux Falls and Rapid City are the most populated cities in South Dakota, with up to two lakh populations. Though the state is vast and sparsely populated, South Dakota has an honorable military tradition. 

5 Magnificent South Dakota Monuments

9 Magnificent South Dakota Monuments

1. Mount Rushmore National Memorial

South Dakota monuments
Image from: National Park Service

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is one of the South Dakota monuments, which is a 60-foot tall three-dimensional sculpture designed by American sculptor Gutzon Borglum.

The art is created in South Dakota’s Black Hills, located in Keystone, made of granite and rich in minerals. Mount Rushmore has magnificent carvings of four American presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

Gutzon Borglum selected four presidents to represent the most vital 150 years in American history. The mountain was largely sculpted by dynamite, drilling, and smoothing with a hand facer or bumper tool.

South Dakota monuments
Photo by Christian Collins, on Flickr, Copyright 2022

Works began in 1927 and were paused in 1941; the monument is incomplete because of the death of artist Gutzon Borglum and insufficient funding. The original design was planned up to the waist, and there is a partially constructed hidden hall of records behind Lincoln’s head.

The plan was to construct an 80-foot-tall, 100-foot-long time capsule holding brass cabinets carrying copies of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and other important American achievements in art, science, and industry.

Though the history of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills has a controversial past related to native Americans, it is now an artistic achievement, preserving the cultural and natural landscape in the black hills region, representing American freedom and democracy.

The presidential trail in Mount Rushmore, a half-loop paved trial with 422 stairs, gives a view of Mount Rushmore from different angles and leads you directly below the sculpture. The trail is family-friendly, with viewing decks and picnic areas.

Of the South Dakota monuments, Mount Rushmore attracts more than a million visitors annually. There is an onsite sculptor’s studio, used by Gutzon Borglum. The ranger programs here are very informative and fun. The site has an information center, gift shop, visitor centers, and a dining area named carvers cafe.

Ultimate One-Day Mount Rushmore Travel Guide | Mount Rushmore National Memorial

2. Crazy Horse Memorial

South Dakota monuments
Photo by Andrea Church, on Flickr, Copyright 2022

The crazy horse memorial is a sculpture of Tasunke Witko, loosely translated as his horse is wild, widely known as the crazy horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior riding a horse pointing to his tribal land.

This South Dakota monument construction began in 1948 by an artist named Korczak Ziolkowski. The memorial is planned to be 641 feet long and 563 feet high and was initiated by a blood relative of the warrior Chief Henry Standing Bear.

The black hills area was considered a sacred place by Native American tribes. Crazy horse memorial reminds a sad history of resistance, broken promises, and an insatiable need to gain wealth.

Crazy Horse Memorial site now has an informative Indian museum of native artifacts for visitors, the Indian university of North America, and the Native American Educational and Cultural Center, which conducts, the mission to conserve the culture and tradition of native American tribes.

The Crazy Horse Memorial | History Traveler Episode 82

3. Jewel Cave National Monument

South Dakota monuments
Image from: National Park Service

Jewel Cave, located on South Dakota’s western side, is the third-longest cave in the world and was declared a national monument in 1908. The cave has many passages and has been mapped for more than 200 miles, with unique colorful formations and underground lakes.

The majority of the caverns created inside the Mississippian Pahasapa Limestone were deposited 350 million years ago. The following limestones, sandstones, and shales deposited in such Paleozoic and Mesozoic seas were destroyed by the tectonic uplift associated with the Laramide Orogeny and the development of the Black Hills.

The cave’s main channels then formed in the early Cenozoic. Uplift continued in the Late Pliocene or Early Pleistocene, reducing the water level and draining the cave.

The explorers have not reached the end of the cave yet; each narrow passage leads to a pristine, fragile crystal-like rock formation. The jewel-like formation of the rocks led to the name Jewel cave.

EXPLORING JEWEL CAVE | A South Dakota Hidden Gem

4. Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

South Dakota monuments
Photo by joevare, on Flickr, Copyright 2022

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, located a few minutes east of Wall Drug, depicts the story of Minuteman Missiles, nuclear avoidance, and the Cold War.

This site protects premises that operated in western South Dakota from 1963 to the early 1990s when the Cold War ended. There were 15 launch control facilities and 150 missile silos ready to go during this period. A massive stash of nuclear missiles was stationed in the Great Plains.

One thousand missiles were stationed on constant alert in plain sight; hundreds remain still. The Minuteman Missile is the most important weapon in the American nuclear arsenal. It can destroy civilization, but it is intended to serve as a nuclear deterrent to maintain peace and avert conflict.

The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is spread across three locations along Interstate 90 in western South Dakota. The Visitor Center is just north of I-90, at exit 131. The park’s two historic sites are four miles (Launch Control Facility Delta-01) and fifteen miles (Launch Control Facility Delta-09) from the Visitor Center.

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, South Dakota - Full Tour (2019)

5. Wind Cave National Parks

South Dakota monuments
Photo by Mia & Steve Mestdagh, on Flickr, Copyright 2022

Wind Cave National Park was the first cave in South Dakota to be designated as a national park. It has the highest concentration of unique boxwork formations in the world and 33,970 acres of woodland and prairie on the surface that serve as a natural animal sanctuary. Wind Cave National Park can be found in western South Dakota.

The caves are part of one of the largest cave systems in the world. The site’s distinguishing qualities are the reversible wind caused by air pressure and stunning rock formations produced by calcite deposits in thin honeycomb patterns.

Visitors can participate in cave tours or browse exhibits in the visitor center.

Wind Cave National Park

6. Geographic Center of the Nation Monument

South Dakota monuments
Photo by Tim (Timothy) Pearce, on Flickr, Copyright 2022

Geographic Center of the Nation Monument, in Belle Fourche, a small town closest to the actual center of the nation, has a small park and a metallic compass monument to mark it. In addition, the South Dakota monuments offer a small museum with a very interesting, amazing exhibit, and a log house with antiques and war memorials.

Geographic Center of the Nation Monument | South Dakota Labor Day Weekend Road Trip 2020

7. Badlands National Park

South Dakota monuments
Image from: National Park Service

If you are into hiking, camping, or a nature lover, Badlands national park is the place for you—the perfect place to watch sunrise, sunset, or even stargazing. The rock formations are uniquely designed by erosion, exposing layers of colorful sediments.

The fossils found in badlands national park are more than a million years old, preserved perfectly in the layers. The park is not all rocks but has mixed-grass prairie flora and fauna, surrounded by buffalo gap national grassland.

Almost extinct animals have been reintroduced into the ecosystem; bison herds, prairie dogs, wild bill Hickok and other wildlife have started to thrive. The Badlands Loop Road is the most scenic drive with many overlooks and pull-offs.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

8. Wounded Knee Monument

South Dakota monuments
Image by: Xavier de Jauréguiberry. Flickr. Copyrights August 14, 2018

The Wounded knee monument is a tribute to the Native Indian tribe, killed by the US army in 1890 at the wounded knee creek in southwestern Dakota. It is one of the South Dakota monuments, reminding us of the tragic history.

Tribal land was being taken over at an increasing rate. Bison herds, which were once vast, were nearly extinct. The bison was essential to the plains tribes’ entire way of life, and without them, Native American tribes rapidly lost stability and security, forcing them to rely on the government for supplies to keep them from starving. The style of life of these free people was quickly disappearing.

The Native Indians holding onto their land ended in a massacre, in which the US finally expressed deep regret.

Wounded Knee Memorial Spirit Warrior keeping guard inside fencing 6minutes 30seconds inside video

9. Verendrye Site

South Dakota monuments
Image from: Travel South Dakota

In 1913, children playing by the hillside in Fort Pierre found a lead plate with markings of French explorers. The Vérendryes had set up many trading posts in the 1730s, what is today North Dakota and Canada.

A 4-foot granite monument has been placed to mark it as an archaeological site of historical importance in South Dakota. 

America's Forgotten National Parks: Verendrye National Monument


South Dakota monuments are a unique and eye-opening experience, and one can learn a lot about the history of the land and leave with a sense of appreciation.

There are several stops between the Black Hills and Sioux fall, both accredited as a national site and others a bit short of the title, yet knowledgeable, wonderous, preserved, and conserved by naming and tagging them as state parks, National City’s, National monuments, National grassland, etc. Located to the south of Black Hills and Rapid city the hot springs with healing properties and prehistoric fossils.

The terrain of the Black Hills and the surrounding area, the sculptures of Mount Rushmore, and crazy horses are all in Custer state park, an area reserved and conserved for wildlife and the ecosystem. Custer state park is 71000 acres of vast and most impressive of South Dakota’s park system and is famous for the bison herds.

South Dakota Tourist Attractions -10 Best Places to Visit in South Dakota

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1. What is South Dakota known for?

A1. Home to Mount Rushmore and the Badlands, the state is known for tourism and agriculture.

Q2. How many monuments are in South Dakota?

A2. There are 16 National Historic Landmarks (NHLs) in South Dakota, one of which is shared with Iowa and listed by the National Park Service as primarily in that state. They have been designated in 13 of South Dakota’s 66 counties.

Q3. Why is it called South Dakota?

A3. The name was taken from that of the Dakota or Sioux Indian Tribe. Beginning about 1877, efforts were made to bring Dakota into the Union as both a single state and as two states. The latter was successful and on November 2, 1889, both North and South Dakota were admitted.

Q4. What are facts about South Dakota is known for?

A4. Facts about South Dakota:

  • Nickname: The Mount Rushmore State.
  • Statehood: 1889; 40th state.
  • Population (as of July 2015): 858,469.
  • Capital: Pierre.
  • Biggest City: Sioux Falls.
  • Abbreviation: SD.
  • State bird: Ring-necked pheasant.
  • State flower: Pasque flower.

Q5. Why is it called Mount Rushmore?

A5. Mount Rushmore, located just north of what is now Custer State Park in theBlack Hills National Forest, was named for the New York lawyer Charles E. Rushmore, who traveled to the Black Hills in 1885 to inspect mining claims in the region.

Suggested reading:

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Last Updated on March 22, 2023 by Susanta Biswas